DIVA TALK: A Week of Divas—Buckley, Kuhn, Graff, Cook, Salonga and Amour

DIVA TALK: A Week of Divas—Buckley, Kuhn, Graff, Cook, Salonga and Amour A DIVA-LOGUE:

A DIVA-LOGUE:

Since my last column, it's been a non-stop week of diva encounters. Saturday night I was enchanted by Melissa Errico's charming performance in the new musical Amour at the intimate Music Box Theatre. Errico possesses a beautiful instrument, and her vibrato-filled tones remain as clear and lovely as ever. In fact, everyone in the cast of Michel Legrand's 90 minute tale of a man who can walk through walls is delightful, including Nora Mae Lyng as the Whore, the belty Sarah Litzsinger as the office worker-turned-nun and the golden voiced Norm Lewis (when is this talented man going to release a solo recording?) as the Painter. There is still no word about a cast recording, but hopefully the talented cast will get the chance to record the Legrand score — I'd particularly like to hear the sweetly sung overture again .

I also decided to finally enter the new millennium and buy myself a DVD player, so on Sunday night I sat down and enjoyed Betty Buckley's concert, "Stars and the Moon: Betty Buckley Live at the Donmar" (Image Entertainment). Taped live during Buckley's acclaimed run at London's Donmar Warehouse in August 2000, the DVD recording features the Tony winning Buckley in great form, singing several of her signature tunes — a belty "Meadowlark," a moving "Memory," a thrilling "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and a poignant "Come On Come On" — as well as songs newer to her repertoire: a definitive take on Jason Robert Brown's "Stars and the Moon," a haunting version of the James Taylor classic "Fire and Rain" as well as songs by up-n-comers Adam Guettel and Ricky Ian Gordon .

Monday night brought the eagerly awaited "Sondheim Celebration" concert at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, which included songs from all six musicals — Company, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, A Little Night Music and Passion — that comprised this past summer's historical event at the D.C. landmark. Highlights included Judy Kuhn's rendition of two Passion songs, "I Wish I Could Forget You" and "Loving You," sung in her rich chest tones; and Randy Graff's duet (with Sarah Uriarte Berry) on A Little Night Music's "Every Day a Little Death." Both Kuhn and Graff epitomize everything I enjoy in a performer: simple, straightforward, concentrated singing that is delivered in a heartfelt manner. And, of course, it's always a treat to hear Barbara Cook sing: her takes on Follies' "In Buddy's Eyes" and "Losing My Mind" were wonderful and brought roars from the sold-out crowd. From my seat I was able to see into the wings of the theatre; throughout the entire evening, I observed several performers watching their fellow actors taking their respective turns in the spotlight; when Cook took the stage, however, practically all of the evening's stars crowded into the wings to watch one of the theatre greats command the stage. It reminded me of the second act of Sunset Boulevard when those on the studio lot crowd around Norma Desmond when she returns to Paramount; however, Cook remains at the top of her game while Norma was, to put it mildly, not. Other highlights: Raúl Esparza — Esparza emerged as the star of the evening, offering glimpses of his portrayals of two Sondheim characters, George in Sunday in the Park with George and Charley in Merrily We Roll Along — and Linda Stephens' duet on Sunday's "Beautiful," perhaps the most moving offering of the night; another wonderful Esparza duet, "Move On" with Melissa Errico; Esparza again on the Merrily showstopper "Franklin Shepherd Inc"; Alice Ripley's comical "Getting Married Today" (I love the way Ripley modulates up on the final, "not getting married todaaa --- aaaay"!); Danny Gurwin's soaring tenor on "Later"; John Barrowman's rich, full voiced "Being Alive"; and the evening's finale, "Sunday," which was followed by a thunderous applause from the sold-out crowd and an instant standing ovation. What a shame that the evening was not preserved either on CD or video .

Wednesday evening I was lucky enough to see the beautiful Lea Salonga in an equally beautiful production of Flower Drum Song. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, featuring a new book by David Henry Hwang, is a sweet, often touching show that interweaves themes of cultural assimilation, father-and-son relationships, the quest for love and the search for acceptance. If Flower Drum doesn't allow Salonga the emotional, vocal peaks of Miss Saigon, she does get the chance to shine with the show's best-known song, "Love, Look Away," and her performance of the tune is one of the evening's highlights. The show boasts a great ensemble cast with notable performances from Sandra Allen (as Linda Low), Jodi Long (as Madame Liang), Randall Duk Kim (as Wang) and Jose Llana (as Ta). The talented company — all Asian Americans — also provides one of the evening's highlights as each member announces his or her birthplace during the show's tug-at-your-heartstrings wedding finale . And, I couldn't think of a better way to end the diva week than attending Betty Buckley's new show at Feinstein's at the Regency. With her performances in Cats, Carrie, Triumph of Love and, of course, Sunset Boulevard, Buckley demonstrated that she is a master of the Broadway stage. Her now-legendary solo debut at Carnegie Hall during her Sunset run also proved Buckley's mastery of the concert stage, and Thursday night at Feinstein's, the Texas native showed that she is now equally at home in the smaller confines of a cabaret. It's the most relaxed and self-assured I've seen the award-winning actress-singer in such an intimate setting, and she seemed to be reveling in her new set of Americana songs and her loving, appreciative audience. Buckley looks great, sounds great and is in complete command of her new material, which features songs by an eclectic array of American composers. It's an almost autobiographical journey, featuring humorous stories of her days as a high school student in Fort Worth and later in college at TCU, and she is backed by a wonderful array of musicians, including Clifford Carter on piano, Jamey Haddad on percussion, Todd Reynolds on violin, Paul Nowinski on bass, Billy Drewes on reeds and special guest (and former high school friend) Stephen Bruton on guitar. I particularly enjoyed Reynolds' work on violin; Buckley's mellifluous voice and Reynolds' haunting sounds on the stringed instrument blended beautifully. Highlights of this evening of "Honest Emotion" — a wonderful tune by Michael McDonald, John Goodwin and Charles Frichtel that Buckley sang with passion — included the act's opening, John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery"; Nancy Griffith's bittersweet "Once in a Very Blue Moon"; Jason Robert Brown's "Stars the Moon" — Buckley's current "favorite theatre story song" that she spins into its own mini-drama — Blossom Dearie and Jack Segal's sweet "Bye, Bye Country Boy"; a terrific pairing of "Heart Like a Wheel" and "Water Is Wide"; and the set's belty closer, Lerner and Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live"/"I Could Have Danced All Night," where Buckley proved that her voice has lost none of its power. In fact, Buckley is a singing actress in the fullest sense of the term, and it's her unerring dramatic abilities that make the evening so powerful. So, if you want to see how it's done, check out Betty Buckley's Deep in the Heart at Feinstein's through Nov. 9. (Feinstein's at the Regency is located in New York City at Park Avenue and 61st Street; call 212-339-4095 for reservations.)

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Although reported elsewhere, Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth will not be bringing her recent acclaimed Lincoln Center concert to Broadway's American Airlines Theatre this season. A spokesman for the singer-actress said that Chenoweth's next Broadway gig will be the new Stephen Schwartz musical Wicked. . . . Tony Award winner Betty Buckley — currently performing Deep in the Heart at Feinstein's at the Regency — will sign copies of her newest recording, "The Doorway," on Nov. 1. Buckley, last on Broadway in a Tony-nominated turn in Triumph of Love, will sign her newest solo album at the Tower Records store near Lincoln Center. Autograph seekers should arrive between 4 and 6 PM. Buckley will also make several TV appearances in the next few days. She will be seen on WLIW's "Metroguide" on Oct. 25 (7:30 PM) and Oct. 27 (11:30 PM) and on New York 1's "On Stage" on Nov. 2 (9:30 AM and 7:30 PM), Nov. 3 (9:30 AM and 7:30 PM) and Nov. 4 (9:30 PM and 12:30 AM) . . . . Rebecca Luker and George Dvorsky will team up for two concerts in November with the Virginia Symphony. On Nov. 8 and 9, Luker and Dvorsky will offer "The Broadway Concert: A Romantic Journey" during the pops series at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Virginia. The evenings — show time is 8 PM — will feature more than 30 songs from The Great White Way, including "All That Jazz" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." Shizuo Kuwahara will conduct the symphony orchestra, and concert tickets, priced between $18 and $65, are available by calling (757) 892-6366. Chrysler Hall is located in Norfolk, Virginia, at 880 No. Military Highway. For more information, go to www.virginiasymphony.com . . . New York's 92nd Street Y's Music at Makor series will offer three "Broadway Rocks" concerts in November and December. Alice Ripley, who will headline the upcoming Kennedy Center mounting of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song & Dance, will kick off the series with a concert on Monday, Nov. 4 at 8 PM. Ripley will offer an evening of original music as well as a discussion about how a performer can successfully navigate both the Broadway and pop-rock worlds. On Monday, Nov. 18 David Yazbek, who composed the Tony nominated score for The Full Monty, will perform his original music and will also take part in a discussion about the Broadway and pop-rock worlds. Yazbek will be joined by drummer Patrick Wilson, who plays for the rock band Weezer as well as The Cars' Ric Ocasek. The "Broadway Rocks" series continues on Dec. 2 with an evening with former Rent star Daphne Rubin-Vega. The Music at Makor (Hebrew for "source") series will be held at the 92nd Street Y's Steinhardt Building, which is located on the West Side of Manhattan at 35 West 67th Street (between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue). Concerts are priced at $25, and show time is 8 PM. Call (212) 212-601-1000; go to www.makor.org for more information.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

Now through Nov. 9 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 16 at the Performing Arts Center of SUNY Purchase in Purchase, NY
Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

Liz Callaway in Concert October 26 in Divas: Simply Singing in Los Angeles, CA
May 16, 2003 in "Broadway Showstoppers" with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops in Philadelphia, PA

Barbara Cook in Concert:

Nov. 2 at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn, NY
Nov. 7 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Nov. 9 at the Harriman Arts Program of William Jewell College in Kansas City
Nov. 22 at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT
Dec. 3-16 at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 20 at the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 31, 2003 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Long Island, NY
Feb. 14-16 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, PA

Linda Eder in Concert:

Oct. 25 and 26 with the Charlotte Symphony in Charlotte, NC
Nov. 1-3 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, PA
Nov. 8 in Providence, RI
Nov. 20 at the Community Theatre in Morristown, NJ
Nov. 23 at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, CT
Dec. 1 at the Bass Hall in Austin, TX
Dec. 3 at the Verizon Wireless Theatre in Houston, TX
Dec. 4 at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, TX
Dec. 12 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota, FL
Dec. 16 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 17 at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL
Dec. 18 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 20 and 21 with the Atlanta Symphony at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 3 and 4, 2003 with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore, MD
Jan. 25 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
Jan. 30 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, CA
Feb. 1 at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, CO
Feb. 14 at the Proctor's Theatre in Albany, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert

March 27, 2003 at the East County Performing Arts Center in Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert:

Oct. 30-Nov. 3 at the American Music Therapy Association Conf. in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 2 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 9 at the Landmark Theatre Gala in Port Washington, NY
Nov. 10 at the Hanford Civic Auditorium in Hanford, CA
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 14 at the Boca Pops Big Band Series in Boca Raton, FL

Bernadette Peters in Concert:

Oct. 26 at the Kleinhans Auditorium in Buffalo, NY

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!

—By Andrew Gans